MADISON, Maine — A COVID-19 outbreak at the Somerset County Jail has ended after the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention cleared the facility Nov. 21, County Administrator Dawn DiBlasi said Tuesday.
This means that the jail went 14 days without a new COVID-19 case, she said. The Maine CDC opened an outbreak investigation associated with the jail on Oct. 25, CDC spokesperson Robert Long said earlier this month.
At the height of the outbreak, 31 inmates and three staff members were infected, Sheriff Dale Lancaster said. No deaths were associated with the outbreak.
Across Maine, other jails — including those in Aroostook, Cumberland, Kennebec and Penobscot counties — have grappled with COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the pandemic. The outbreaks caused some facilities to limit the number of inmates they would accept, and in places like the Penobscot County Jail in Bangor, nearly two dozen inmates cannot be transferred to state prisons to complete their sentences due to an ongoing outbreak.
“We had kept it [COVID-19] out for a long time because the sheriff has been so diligent,” DiBlasi said. “You don’t go in there [the jail] without being masked up.”
The outbreak began in one pod of the jail and eventually spread to a second pod, “and he [Lancaster] stopped it right there,” she said.
The pod setup at the jail, as opposed to a linear setup, worked well during the outbreak because administration was able to isolate inmates, Lancaster said.
“That helped us a great deal,” he said, adding that restricting person-to-person contact was key.
The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office and the Somerset County Jail relied on a variety of measures to keep the outbreak under control. DiBlasi highlighted masking and other personal protection gear, temperature checks and sanitization.
“We worked with the state police and local law enforcement … to limit bringing inmates to the jail,” Lancaster said. “They all cooperated with us.”
Visitors were also limited during the outbreak. Inmates were able to access phones to keep in touch with their loved ones, the sheriff said.
As of Tuesday morning, 97 people were incarcerated at the jail. The facility is licensed to hold 234 inmates, Lancaster said.
The jail is currently accepting some new inmates, in part because of staffing, he said.
“We’re still coming out the other side of this as we are slowly reevaluating our operations daily,” he said.
During a Somerset County Commissioners meeting Nov. 3, Lancaster said that 26 inmates, a corrections officer and an employee from the medical staff were infected with COVID-19, according to meeting minutes posted on the county’s website.
At the time, the outbreak remained isolated in the E pod and all pod officers were wearing full PPE gear in the pods, with limited movement inside the jail, the minutes show. Some staff members were working remotely.
Vaccination rates for inmates and staff members were not immediately available. Inmates are offered COVID-19 vaccines as they go through the intake process and also when housed in their pods, Lancaster said.
The percentage of inmates who are vaccinated fluctuates as inmates come and go. The majority are detained pretrial, and some who are able to receive bail might only be at the jail for several hours or days, Lancaster noted.
“It’s a continuous process,” he said.